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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

The Fleshy Tones Of Real India

Amitava Kumar
The author, most recently, of Evidence of Suspicion. Lives in upstate New York

Permanently pure Boat rides in the holy Ganges are an integral part of the tourist attractions of Patna

imageGoing to Patna for a vacation sounds a bit like going to the bus-stop for a martini. But my parents live there, and Patna is where i visit for the holidays. i find myself reciting the familiar woes of an nri in the motherland, the endless clichés about the heat and dust, but a part of me also believes that a trip to Patna offers a glimpse of the real india. i’m not talking of ‘poverty tourism’ here, but something quite specific. A report from the un stated that in india it is easier to have a mobile phone than to have access to a toilet. Well, ladies and gentlemen, come to Patna — you’ll see that the rickshaw-puller has tucked into the little pocket of his torn ganji a small phone, while on both sides of the street, as you ride the rickshaw into the market or the station, arises the distinct aroma of drying urine.

I exaggerate, of course, but only marginally. You can go for a boat ride on the ganges in search of fresh air. if you can stand the loud roar of the engines, and the snout-up-in-the-air pose of the boats, it is a fun ride. the brown and pink tones of the buildings seen from a distance, the city revealing another side of itself, like a face glimpsed from another angle. As the boat zooms, what comes close is the magnificent concrete expanse of the five kilometre-long bridge across the river. When the boatman turns around and you are on the way back to the ghat, the human scale reasserts itself in the line of buttocks that form the indelicate horizon. We have always been told that the ganges is the eternal river, it is pure, and not even this massive outpouring of shit will sully it.

Patna is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. It has existed, under various names and without a break, since 490 BC
Nearest airport: Patna, Bihar
Nearest station: Patna Junction

When i was a boy, growing up in that city, relatives who were visiting would sometimes go to the airport in the evening to watch a plane land and take off. And near the airport, the wide roads that lead to the governor House served as a boulevard for strolling. i was often taken to the Soda Fountain, near gandhi Maidan, for ice-cream. of course, neither the place, nor the people, are the same now. in modernday Patna, you can play pool or visit the fast-food restaurants or stroll in the Maurya Lok shopping centre among the unusually high number of jewellery stores.

But, in both the Patna of old and the city that is thriving today, a popular site for visitors remains the gol ghar. A giant, dome-shaped granary built by the British in 1786, after the famine that killed 10 million people, it is a marvel of architecture. the gol ghar is constructed like a stupa; it is pillarless, and has a spiral stairway leading to the top. i always enjoy climbing it. i can look at the city, but also at the people coming on the stairs after me, eager to capture their personal view of Patna.

We shouldn’t, i think, search for symbolic significance in the fact that because of a fatal flaw in the construction of its doors, the gol ghar has never been put to use in the way that it was originally designed.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

The Morning After

The Fleshy Tones Of Real India
Amitava Kumar The author, most recently, of Evidence of Suspicion. Lives in upstate New York

Stone Chickens And Beach Resorts
Suresh Menon Bengaluru-based columnist, who often writes on cricket

Rafting Up The Valley Of God
Amrita Nandy-Joshi South Asian women’s rights activist. Moonlights as a freelance journalist and travel writer

How To Catch A Cloud
Deepanjana Pal Mumbai-based writer and author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma

The One-Fourth Holy Land
Aruni Kashyap Assamese writer currently based in Delhi

The Torrential Luxury
Patrick Bryson Australian writer currently residing in Shillong, Meghalaya

An Aimless Gawker’s Paradise
Arul Mani Columnist and teacher at a Bengaluru college

Turban-Watching In Filmi Punjab
Annie Zaidi Journalist and author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales

The Motorcars Of the Gopis
Arundhati Ghosh Arts management professional based in Bengaluru

Land Of Thread And Mirrors
Benson Issac Teacher at St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. Also Freelance researcher and trainer

Goa, Be Kind. Rewind
Frederick Noronha Goa-based journalist and author

The Sands Of Time
Ramu Ramanathan Mumbai-based playwrightdirector and editor of PT Notes, a monthly theatre newsletter produced by Prithvi Theatre

The Refuge Of Small Mercies
Neel Chaudhuri Delhi-based playwright and theatre director and artistic director of The Tadpole Repertory

Harem Pants And Psychedelic Trance
Deepika Arwind Writer and journalist based in Bengaluru

Holiday At The High Wavys
Bijoy Venugopal Bengaluru-based journalist and biographer for the rock band Thermal and a Quarter

Tuning In With The Folks
Mrinalini Harchandrai Writer based in Mumbai

The Treehouse Fellowship
Mridula Koshy Delhi-based writer and author of a collection of short stories called If It Is Sweet

Romeo And Juliet In Freeze Mode
Amitabha Bagchi Professor at IIT Delhi and author of the novel Above Average

  Relax, It’s Just A Vacation
SANTOSH DESAI CEO, Future Brands, and author of Mother Pious Lady —Making Sense of Everyday India

  Candid Photographs

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